In the biblical narrative, Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth but must journey to Bethlehem, the ancestral home of Joseph’s family, to be counted in a census imposed by the Romans. On their arrival in the town, Joseph searches for lodgings without success. Tissot contrasts Joseph’s anxious plea—calling up to townspeople in hopes of finding accommodation—with the Virgin Mary’s quiet resignation.
Tissot’s expeditions to the Middle East in the 1880s provided rich source material for his watercolor compositions. The thick masonry walls and labyrinthine alleys of Jaffa, an ancient port city near modern Tel Aviv in Israel, serve here, with minor revisions, as the backdrop of Bethlehem.
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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). Saint Joseph Seeks a Lodging in Bethlehem (Saint Joseph cherche un gîte à Bethléem), 1886-1894. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 10 7/16 x 6 5/8 in. (26.5 x 16.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.23
Purchased by public subscription
Image: 10 7/16 x 6 5/8 in. (26.5 x 16.8 cm); Sheet: 10 7/16 x 6 5/8 in. (26.5 x 16.8 cm); Frame: 20 x 15 x 1 1/2 in. (50.8 x 38.1 x 3.8 cm)